by Sam Lepore>
Part 1, Barstow, California
The road calls to many of us.
For some, the call is a soft suggestion, a sweet whisper like the voice of a not quite clear face in a dream. The rider who takes this road does not always know why, but he or she usually enjoys it. For others, the call is a demand of necessity, a call to arms. The rider who takes this road does battle with the elements of time and distance, sometimes wining, sometimes not. He or she is drained by the fight.
For me, the call of the road is like the passionate plea of a lover enveloped in a deep embrace. Take me! Take me NOW! And so I have given in again to the temptation to travel for the journey, not the destination. This is my lust, my Wanderlust.
Or more precisely, this is the pre-quel to Wanderlust … a tune up trip to an Internet BMW Riders lunch gathering in the mountains of New Mexico. Hence the title, WanderLUNCH. Hey … if Star Wars can do a prequel years after its series, so can I, right?
Before today’s story … a little refresh:
It has been nearly two years since I interrupted my cross country trip because of an illness at home. That family member recovered but needed increasing attention which kept me from being away more than a few days at a time. Sadly, she passed away in January, and while I am now “free” to travel, I still deeply feel the pain of Janis Joplin singing “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Well, life goes on, and even if one does not heal, you still have to deal with it. Last year another IBMWR member took a long ride after an emotional break in his life. He wrote about “The Healing Ride”. I certainly understand that, but for now I have much to deal with.
Actually, I have been riding a fair amount this year – Southern California for some rally preparations, Seattle for the LDR gathering, Death Valley, Lost Coast … but the keyboard lost its muse in sadness. Lets see whether tickling the keys will wake it up.
Snoopy likes to start his stories “It was a dark and stormy night.” It seemed that way when I left San Francisco because it was a windy a blustery fogged-in morning. Through my sunglasses, excuse me – through my fog glasses the skies looked grey enough to rain and I began to wonder why am I doing this? The answer was clear as the sky by the time the wind blew me past the windmills of the Altamont Pass. The ride is the reason. (But try telling that to the occupants of the can-on-wheels called a Geo Metro that was doing wind induced unscheduled lane changes! It seems strange a bike can be more stable than a car in some winds, but I wasn’t fighting it like they were.)
My chosen route for this trip is to break the 1,200 miles into a 5/7 split. This is my first “serious” ride in a while, and I thought to make it serious fun by taking a less direct route. Across the central valley to CA 108 and over Sonora Pass, then down US 395, the Owens Valley … the drainpipe that fills the pools of Los Angeles (the California Water Wars are not over yet …).
The day was exquisite for its contrasts. Between Oakdale and Jamestown it seemed that every other field was either flooded almond trees or dust devils between new tilled rows. Dust and flood. Flood and dust. California.
California is truly an amazing land of juxtaposed disjunction. Where else can you stop for a photograph of 6+ feet of snow on the side of the road, and less than an hour later be in a desert with so little vegetation that there is no “ground cover”. That was between the 9,800 foot summit of Sonora Pass and the Tufta Islands of Mono Lake. (And if you’ve never ridden CA 108 all the way down, add it to your list of “whoo hoo”!)
The mention of ground cover reminds me of my first look at California when I was 7 years old. Growing up in New England, I thought all the land on all the Earth (except for the desert and beaches) was covered with grass, weeds, or forest. Then the family went on a visit to San Pedro. Guess what, they had spaces where there was no stuff growing, nothing! Just ‘raw’ dirt! Oh, yeah, then I learned California IS just a desert, a beach, they grow grass (weed) IN the forest and … well enough of that. 🙂 You see what a confused kid I was?
Anyway, it was very interesting to note the change in the landscape as I descended further into the ‘rain shadow’ of the east slope of the Sierra. From the stately, massive fir pines (some of these ‘normal’ pine trees have 10-feet thick trunks and drop cones the size of office wastebaskets!), the downslope trees quickly took a gnarled and bent stance, crouching against the wind. Then there was scrub and sage, and only a few miles down the valley even the cactus gave way to uncovered ground, which became piles of igneous rock. From lush to barren in half a tank.
Years ago I used to run long distance – 10K and marathons (So I suppose it is not much of a stretch for me to like riding long distance too. That takes a similar mental stamina.) After a lot of practice, runners get conditioned to the routine of the effort so that the effort itself becomes a form of stimulus. It is called the “runner’s high”. Recently when I was feeling low and lonely, I went out for a run. I didn’t expect it to happen, but there it was after about 5 miles. The feeling came right back.
And so it was today, which surprised me that it could return so quickly – – I had another Perfect Moment. Without belaboring the description I wrote in Wyoming Wanderlust, a Perfect Moment is the combination of everything happening just right and you recognize it for the perfection. It is not a riding ‘orgasm’, it is more a state of heightened awareness (but come to think of it, the afterglow is rather similar :). The Perfect Moment came on a stretch of the climb from Dardanelles to the Sonora Summit. The western slope of the Sierra is a gradual incline for about 75 miles that ends in a sudden upsweep. Where the upsweep begins are some of the best curvaceous roads. The road was clear, the weather warm for the high country, and I was riding moderately aggressively – 45 mph around 30 mph (warning, not limit) curves. Then it all clicked.
Heeled waaaay over in a left hander where I could see all the way through the curve and maybe a half-mile ahead through the fir forest, I felt the precise balance between pressing on the left grip to dip the roll angle of the bike and the twist of the right grip to lift the yaw of the front wheel. Two fully controlled opposing forces, maintained in balance by the subtlest gentle movements, and I was snicking through the turns like they were made for me. The sky was filled with the passing blur of green/blue/green/blue as I dove in and out of tree cover. It was gorgeous.
That’s when I remembered I forgot to pack my toothbrush.
Doesn’t it always happen that your mind comes up with the most stupid conclusions at the times you least expect them. Oh well, I guess that’s why I like to ride.
Some other observations before this gets too long … Once you get away from the cities, the drivers seem to anticipate and encourage motorcycles more. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people pull over to let me pass without me having to push them (lights, horn, or tail gaiting). It’s nice to see them recognize our ability to enjoy the road at a different pace – and let us do it.
One lesson I am learning again and again – if you *ever* ask yourself: Should I stop for gas/pee/rest/whatever … the answer is: You already should HAVE done so! Road weariness and highway hypnosis is insidious. Da brain is trying to tell you something when you ask a question for which an alert mind would have made a decision. I learned that again, but at the cost of being overly fatigued for a “Day 1”. And so to bed.
FuelPlus: 532 miles, 9 hrs 18 minutes engine time, 58 mph average
GPS III Plus: 530 miles, 7 hrs 32 minutes travel time, 57 mph average
SF I80 I880 I238 I580 I205 CA120 CA108 US395 CA58 Barstow
Part 2, almost Santa Fe, New Mexico
The morning mountains of the desert are full of unfulfilled promises.
So it seems, anyway, when you can see their heat, feel their shimmer in the warming air, and imagine how unforgiving they really are when they warm to their task of persevering in desolation. As I ride through the open arid space that separates the Colorado River from the sea, I am thankful that at least some of the technology we have invented and imposed on our environment can bring back an appreciation for what we rarely take the time to observe. Sailing across the vast emptiness at 75 mph on a machine that hums contentedly, on an unbroken ribbon of pavement, I can’t imagine how anyone ever crossed it on foot in less than a lifetime. It never fails to amaze and astound me that there is so much open emptiness in America when I have seen the barrios of L.A. and the ghettos of Chicago.
It is easy to get lost in mysticism when you are alone with your thoughts for hours on end. That is one of the magical properties of long rides on a motorcycle, although some people have conditioned themselves to require aural abstractions – cassette, radio, cb. I choose to listen to the many voices already in my head shouting for attention. (Guess it is my nature to like being alone in a crowd.) In the ‘normal’ world, they have too much competition and are often unable to be heard. The helmet is impermeable from the inside, and so they bounce around freely and happily. Where am I going with this? Unsubstantiated, I have noticed that people who do not like to ride bikes (I mean are actively against …. not just ‘don’t care’) tend to not like themselves as people. Makes sense. No one likes to be alone with someone they dislike.
This is my first trip with a GPS unit, and so far I’ve tried to do it without looking at a paper map. This aspect of new technology being bent to common use is something that is fun (ok, so I’m a geek) but it has a long way to go before it is ready for grandma to use … no matter what the Cadillac commercials say. By following the GPS indicators, I made three complete circles of Needles, California looking for River Road – and Needles is only two circles wide 🙂 . But it did work. The nicest thing about a GPS is that you exactly where you are when you are lost. That’s a technological improvement.
A month or so ago in his column in Motorcycle Consumer News, Fred Rau wrote about a side trip he took to a small town that isn’t on some maps anymore. Oatman, Arizona is on the original Route 66, which has almost disappeared. I left the Interstate at Needles to find the road to Oatman, which the GPS pointed to plus-or-minus 52 feet. (Could be tricky. The road is only 25 feet wide. 🙂 As soon as I turned onto Oatman Road, I noticed that Route 66 literally DOES disappear. The pavement is pressed tar and gravel, not the more common black bitumen. It was made with local rock, so the road surface looks the same color and consistency as the open ground on either side of the road (remember from yesterday ‘no ground cover’?). Look far ahead on the road … and you can’t really see the road for the terrain. It would be easy to drift off if you let your attention wander.
Another immediate image is the high power poles. There are three-wire transmission towers running along the road which are shaped like saguaro cactus. Not just angled cross braces, but actual swooping arms, two on one side, one in between them on the other side, bent gracefully upward. Arizona blends with itself – I suppose you could say ‘you are what you heat’.
Oatman is just like Fred wrote. A ghost town with clean sheet ghosts. Not quite a tourist trap, simply because not enough tourists go there. But my friend Kaaren would like it. They have a herd of burros wandering wild though the streets. The road caution signs have the outline of a burro.
Quaint and charming as it is, I do not recommend approaching or leaving Oatman on its east side. Old Route 66 snakes around the mountains, but the road is *covered* with tar snakes. And they were biting. (For the non-moto readers, tar snakes are cracks in the pavement filled with what looks like roofing tar. When they get hot, the tar becomes gelatinous, and crossing them – especially leaned over – can cause bike tires to slip several inches. Not a problem for a car, but bad news for a bike.) But come to think of it, I don’t remember ever hearing someone having an accident because of the snake itself. Very scary, anyway.
So, I got my kicks, so to speak, on Route 66. What was more of a kick was going 66 on Route 66 (marked for 30!). Some nice sweepers west of Kingman. But alas, that 45 mile “shortcut” cost me almost two hours, and I had agreed to have dinner in Santa Fe. Damned inconvenient about those time zones, too (I forgot!). And now there are a mere 500 miles of I40 before me. Not quite the “Take me!” of yesterday. More like “Shove this under your tires, buster.”
One more chuckle before the velocoraptor of the interstate consumed me (high velocity, but it eats your brain): Approaching Flagstaff I noted the sign that said I was entering the Kaibob National (Treeless) Forest. Look to the left. Look to the right. See at least 50 miles to the horizon in either direction. The tallest thing in sight would be a chipmunk standing on a fence post. National Forest?
Didn’t make it to Santa Fe. And didn’t make it in condition to write last night. Just out of Albuquerque a blast of dirt in my contacts put me down for the night. Hurt too much to finish. So I stayed in Almost Santa Fe.
FuelPlus 740 miles, 11:32 hrs engine, 65 mph average
Barstow I40, 3 circles of Needles, US66, I40, I25 Almost Santa Fe
Part 3, Español, New Mexico
This is a short report because it was a short day.
Morning at Meltz Mansion (Centaur Cycles) was resplendent with eau de doughnut in the air. My nose worked as well as the GPS in finding the gathering (before the gathering) of the Internet BMW Riders. Sucrose and caffeine sustenance was in copious supply (and copiously consumed) to fortify us for the agonizing travel of … oh, about 50 miles to lunch. Ok, ok, there was also orange juice for the health conscious. Thank you Richard and Meg!
That agonizing ride was beautiful agony. Through the back streets of Santa Fe – where every house (and I mean every house without exception) is made of the same external surface material. The mission adobe look is preserved in every building, and it lends a pleasing visual serenity to the population carpet. Not that Santa Fe is crowded … but in many other places you can see where the land has been conformed to the people. Here it appears the opposite.
Crossing the Rio Grande, brown and muddy even this far from Texas, the road climbs toward the plateau on which sits Los Alamos. What wonderful roads switch through the ponderosa and quickly gain more altitude from the already high base of Santa Fe (over 5000 feet) than seems possible. The air begins to feel thin, and the K75 idles poorly without its high altitude plug at nearly 9,000 feet.
The 25 or so people who breakfasted at Centaur did not ride as a group. Actually, I don’t know what they did, because I missed the departure getting gas. During my ride I had the misfortune to fall in behind and follow a pair of potatoes who were not part of our group. I don’t often ride with potatoes, so this was an opportunity to observe them. Not much ground clearance. Riders counterleaning (not countersteering, actually leaning opposite the curve) on every corner. Very fast in the short straight, followed by heavy breaking. And probably because of the altitude, someone in front of me was running overly rich. Peeee-uw. Enough. I dropped back.
We all arrived at the lunch spot hungry. Well,,, ready to eat anyway. Brian had the grill going and again the nose outdid the GPS in finding the spot. Got a bunch of digital pictures which will post when I get home. So, I ride 1,350 miles for lunch. Was it worth it? Of course! (But prize for long distance went to someone from Colorado who took 2300 miles to cover 500 miles to get there. I gotta get seriously lost next year. 🙂
Passing through Los Alamos on the way down the plateau I noticed street names for local items of note. These street names themselves would have probably been security violations 55 years ago. The intersection of Oppenheimer and Trinity was thought provoking. Then to show how our culture is changing, not much further down the highway was one of those “trash picked up by” signs announcing The Lady of The Woods (Wiccan).
Well, an early stop tonight. Tomorrow Taos, then Chama, Shiprock, and ??? The Lunch is over. The Wander continues.
FuelPlus 133 miles, 3:13 hrs engine, 42 mph
almost Santa Fe US285 NM4 NM502 Español
Part 4, Page, Arizona
It is so wonderful to “find” roads that have been there all along. And to find them on a sunny Sunday, find them free of traffic, find them in good repair, and find them full of curves, is to find them truly enjoyable. I “found” some incredible roads today … but much of northern New Mexico is like that. Instead of putting up the main route from Santa Fe to Taos, I let Street Atlas select a ‘scenic’ route from Espanola. It chose NM 76 and a series of two lane back roads that followed the ridge of a bluff, then curved through a river valley, coming in from the southeast. NM 76 is a road to remember. And I will!
The reason for going through Taos (I never take the most direct route anyway 🙂 was to retrace another road I “found” about 7 years ago when I wandered down from the Four Corners area. Listen up here! If you EVER find yourself in northwest New Mexico, you *must* take US Route 64 from Farmington to Taos … or from Taos to Farmington. It has some of the most delicious back to back 180 degree 70 mph sweepers that I’ve found in the USofA. I would rate this in the category of the famous LoLo Pass route. It is definitely on my short list of favorites. Pay attention to the weather if you do this, because between Chama and Taos the road climbs through 10,200 feet. Storms get nasty quickly there.
And don’t be tempted to do any of this in the dark. Even if you miss all the deer and sheep that graze on the road, you will also miss the fabulous little Rio Grande Gorge ten miles west of Taos. The high plateau is nearly flat there, then suddenly there is a 650 foot drop straight to the river. The bridge over it is reputed to be the second highest (water to road) in the US highway system. Anyone want to guess the highest?
One more Taos tip. My favorite breakfast spot is Michael’s Kitchen and Bakery just north of town center on Route 64. Today’s belly weight was some huge red (raspberry?) gooey pecan roll. Their omelettes are too big for me on a serious riding day …
One last thing to mention about backroads. Something that is common in the west is nearly unknown to easterners (like me before I moved west). There are a lot of dips where the road passes through a drainage culvert. These unimposing little gullies fill rapidly almost beyond imagination with the slightest rain. I passed through one that had a trickle of water dribbling across the road – and around a car that had tried to make it through after yesterday’s afternoon thunderstorm. Or so the tow truck driver said as I waited to avoid riding through the mud “plowed” around the car.
Just north of Taos, Route 64 turns west. That was a turning point for me emotionally, too. In every trip there comes a moment or a place where suddenly you realize you are “heading home”. Some look forward to this, others ignore it. True, as Yogi Berra would say, the trip ain’t over till its over. But turning home turns my thoughts to the home that is no more. There is no little one waiting as there used to be – one for whose happiness at my arrival was reason enough to return. But return we must, though with this turn in the road comes a tear of remembrance. – – – When you are done reading this, take a moment to go hug someone who is special, be they two legged, four legged, furred, feathered or family.
Earlier I mentioned the Rio gorge. If you go that way, slow down a couple of miles west of the river and be amused by the “Mad Max” houses. There is an entire community of energy efficient houses buried in the terrain. They face south, have windmills on top, plus solar water panels, plus solar electric panels, plus turrets and “designs” that make them look like the Australian fortress in the Mad Max movies.
What is it about Texan pickups that they can’t stay on the road proper? When you take a pickup license road test in Texas, does the inspector drive beside you in the ‘real’ lane to watch how you drive on the shoulder? This practice seems to be common only in Texas, but they take it with them … today I did not want to pass the Texas pickup because I was going fast enough and enjoying the road. He insisted on driving on the shoulder for several miles (we’re talking 65 mph, here folks). Finally I could not stand the gravel being spit by the right tires any more. Either these guys don’t realize what they are causing – or that’s the reason Texas trucks have a lone star pattern in their windshield.
When US 64 climbed high, I noticed the deciduous trees above 9,500 feet hadn’t wakened yet. Do trees even know there is a winter, or is it just magic that it is always warm when they awake? The evergreens must talk to them about winter, no? Or do not all trees speak a common language?
Many people automatically think “stereotyping” is bad. Like anything, it can be misused to prove a bias or prejudice, but you know stereotyping is rightly the collection of common – if not conclusive – observations. It is stereotyping to say cows are brown. Many are, some are not, but we accept it as understandable. How now brown cow. So it is that I made stereotypical conclusions observing bikes on the road today. In the show off areas of the cities there were all forms and all brands of bikes. (Although there were an over representation of ape hangers … bikes with seats so low some of them needed palm pegs to rest their hands without dragging knuckles on the ground 🙂 Out on the road, however, I saw only stereotypes. Counted three separate clusters of Harleys parked beside a self-proclaimed Cowboy Bar (remember, this is noon-ish Sunday). Counted six immaculate Gold Wings (all with trailers) parked beside the BBQ joint at the north edge of town. Saw a total of about a dozen other bikes “out there”, being ridden, packed and travelling. Ten were BMW, one Yamaha Venture, and one I didn’t catch. BMW uses the advertising line of “adventure touring”. It’s working.
Quick observations: Shiprock has food. Five or so years ago I came through there expecting to gas and eat … it is an Indian reservation “town” where the population is spread over a wide geographic area – but there was only one gas station and no place open to eat. Now they’ve joined corporate chain America. Burgers, fried chicken, and even Chihuahua Chow (Taco Bell).
Picked up a nasty headwind on the Navajo Mesa. After having carefully calculated being able to ride my current tank to the end of the day, I watched the FuelPlus miles remaining drop from 169 to 127 in the span of 10 road miles. If you have a K bike and do not have a FuelPlus, you are foolish not to be fuelish. It saved me by “suggesting” I stop for more before the last 90 mile dry stretch.
A chicken and egg conundrum: near Kayenta, Arizona is the Peabody Western Coal Company. (Appalachian natives and bluegrass fans will recognize that name.) Mr. Peabody’s coal train is electrified here, and it’s sole purpose is to carry the coal to the Navajo Power plant near Page … so the coal can be used to generate the electricity that among other things powers the train. So, idle mind wonders: How did they start this self feeding cycle?
Approaching Page I saw a road sign “Page 10”. I didn’t see any more, but I don’t doubt that if there ever was one that said “Page 2” some Paul Harvey fan somewhere is happy now.
Finally, I ended up in Page looking for a motel. After cruising through town twice, I decide to be adventurous and try “Uncle Bill’s Place” – the sign that said ROOMS $29. Turns out Uncle Bill rents rooms in what were row houses on a back street two blocks from the main drag where motels are two to three times that. My very nice private bedroom is across the hall from the bathroom he said I had to share with the two young Austrian girls in the other room. Uhhh. ok. 🙂 🙂
(Check out Uncle Bill at http://www.canyon-country.com/unclebill )
Fuel Plus 494 miles, 8:44 engine, 54 mph average Espanola NM76 NM75 NM518 NM68 US64 US160 AZ98 Page
Part 5, Beatty, Nevada
About eight or ten years ago, when motorcycle sales were picking up again in the US as baby boomers re-entered the market, I remember reading some articles in the fringe press about how motorcycles can be bad for addictive personalities. Someone coined the phrase “adrenalin junkies” to describe the go-fast crowd and their penchant for taking unnecessary chances.
The truth is known to those of us who have motorcycling in our blood. There is an organic, scientifically undiscovered, but commonly known variant of adrenalin, called ‘motocyclene’. It is both a stimulant and a relaxant, but it is a transient chemical – only the lack of which can be physically observed. Some of us who have it are M+, some of us are M- … that doesn’t mean “infected”, it is more like blood type positive or negative.
M+ motocyclene sufferers are charged by riding. They get thrilled and filled by their time in the saddle, and when they end their ride their motocyclene receptors are happy. M- motocyclene consumers start out pent up in the frustration of not leaning/accelerating/swooping until they release that energy in the saddle. They end their ride calmed in spirit and renewed by having escaped into their own world for a while.
Let’s face it, riding is a constant stream of instant interpretation challenges, and yes, adrenalin is a frequent friend, but adrenalin-rushes leave you tired when they pass. Motocyclene dependant personalities end a ride feeling better – even if they are tired.
I left Page in a brilliant crisp desert morning. People write trite phrases about ‘desert color’, but up close the sensuality of color profusion is really quite vibrant. Purple grasses at the edge of the road. Iridescent orange blossoms on lilly-bell flowers. Glowing blue stars on shrub bushes. And I haven’t even mentioned the multihued sand cliffs or the several blues in the sky. If this were a digital image, a color count would be in the millions.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really concentrate on the colors. I was involved in a game of death-squirrel slalom. As I dropped off the Mesa to the Colorado River, there were hundreds of ground squirrels darting across the road. The MSF should consider using them in swerve/avoidance training. Somehow I managed to keep my tires clean, but at least one made it clear between the front and back tire.
The river plain immediately north of the Grand Canyon is about 4,500 feet elevation. As you travel toward the north rim, the road suddenly rises to 7,900 feet in less than 10 miles. This area is a prime example of ‘changing conditions’. I left Marble Canyon in sunshine at about 90 degrees temperature. I pulled into Jacob Lake half an hour later *in* the clouds at 45 degrees. But although this may sound uncomfortable to non-riders and may not even be noticeable to someone in a car, it is part of the tactile experience every rider looks back on.
As I got off the bike I heard a loud PLOP and tuned to see a pile of while goop on the seat. Thinking $@$# birds, it suddenly occurred to me that the goop was melting. Then another PLOP, then more … I was in a snowball storm. Not a snow storm, not hail! The snow was falling in clumped balls about the size of bubble gum. Weirdest precip I’ve ever seen. Fifty miles later I was sweating again.
In previous writings I mentioned “rain veils” – those clearly delineated curtains of precipitation that drift down from clouds which have been compressed by the mountains, but each cloud is a distinctly separate source of moisture. Not only did I see them again today, but I was riding along side one that was moving in the same direction I was. When the road veered slightly left, I was in the (light) rain. Veer right, dry. I could almost reach out at stick my hand into the shower.
The vast wide spaces of the high plains have been good for the voices. They all have a place to go, and the racket isn’t quite so cacophonous. (Best comment I’ve seen on this was a signature from someone on the IBMWR: “Are the voices in my head too loud for you to?”) All of the voices and I were amused, though, as we approached Colorado City, Arizona. Nowhere near Colorado, but sharing the border with Utah. Have you noticed the cutesy names in many western states that combine two state names? Texarkana is perhaps the best known, but there is also Calneva, Texhoma, Texico, and others. So why isn’t Colorado City called Utizona? Or better yet … if there were a city near Four Corners, would it be Ari-col-uta-mex or Zona-rado-tah-xico? Thinking back to circling Needles … the only name for a city across *that* border would be Haystack. Gad, riding the desert can be quizzical.
My K75 turned 54,000 miles and feels stronger and smoother than it did when first broken in. The last tune up at BMW Marin did something magical. I’m getting better mileage even in the high altitudes, averaging 47-50 mpg cruising at 70, and I saw 240 miles on one tank when I was taking it easy.
Quick observations: Southern Utah has the most amazing sandstone cliff structures. From a distance they are painted in colors, but up close they look like giant sandcastles … one almost looks around for the pail and shovel.
Interstates are sometimes a necessity, although droning in a straight line at 85 (to keep _with_ traffic) is as exciting as having a package of corn for dinner. But if you have to do it, I can’t think of a more scenic 50 miles than I15 south of St. George, Utah, through the Virgin River Canyon.
There were at least a dozen F16 jets practicing out of Nellis as I rode through Lost Wages (Las Vegas). Full afterburners. Loud enough to drown out the throttle tuners in the next lane (bikers who sit at a light and rev the engine constantly).
GPS and StreetAtlas have quite a sense of humor. There is no No. Lamb street off of Exit 50 no matter what their maps say … oh, what a minute, “No Lamb”? Lucky for me I still know how to navigate by turning around.
Time for me to backtrack and be fair to the stereotypes I mentioned yesterday. Today in the tourist destination areas of the Grand Canyon I saw “out there” 2 GoldWings, 1 Harley dresser, 1 FJ, and even a Honda Pacific Coast. And 6 BMWs.
Sadly, as I was walking to the restaurant for dinner, I saw a fellow picking up a R11R in the one intersection in Beatty. He’s ok. He grabbed too much brake at the stoplight and lost it in a patch of gravel. Be careful friends.
FuelPlus 416 miles, 6:55 hrs engine, 61 mph average
Page US89 US89A AZ389 UT59 UT9 I15 (cross Las Vegas) US95 Beatty
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. Remember the Austrian girls? They were very impressed that I would ride a Bay-Emm-Vey so far from ‘civilized cities’ in this country. Karla and Gerta both want to say Guten Tag! to everyone … next time I have to learn how to say “I’ll wash your back and you wash mine” in German.
Part 6, San Francisco – End
To me, travelling is an art, not a product. If all you want is to get from here to there, take a bus, which you can do with your eyes closed and enjoy the aroma of disinfectant-infused plastic. If you want to get yourself there by private vehicle, you at least have to have your eyes open. Getting yourself there by motorcycle, you have to have your eyes, ears, nose, and that biggest organ of all – your mind open.
It surprises me how some things can register on the senses in passing, but not really be interpreted unless you are open to wonder. Like when passing two green fields in the Fish Lake Valley, on the border of Nevada and California. Both fields looked like ‘grass’, but as the wind changed, I got a distinctly different smell from them. Wondering (and not being a farm boy), I stopped to ask the workers who were pressing the cuttings into huge breadloaf shaped bales. One field was alfalfa and the other was spring hay. Nice to know it wasn’t just my imagination.
As I said, travelling is an art, but being a mostly left-brained individual I have little or no artistic talent. My forte is analyzing, categorizing, and noting detail. Thank you to those who have enjoyed reading these rolling reports, but they are just reflected reminiscence of the same experiences you would encounter on the same trip. If you want art in writing … read Warren Harhay! (It would be interesting for Warren and I to ride together for a day, then write. His masterful imagery and my precision road-kill counts of the same road might paint a complementary bookends view.)
I was asked how I remember so much at the end of a day … I make 2-3 word notes on a small pad each time I stop, to be used later as thought triggers. Today’s notes: trinity-trinity, whacking country, massage mirage, 4 BMWs, gas small towns, 120 whoopde, return path, 13 ACEs, walker, our little Kansas. Is that enough to tell the story? … perhaps if you had been there, so I’d better flesh it out.
A couple of days ago I mentioned passing the intersection of Trinity in Los Alamos. Yesterday I passed the Trinity test site in Nevada. Somehow the thought was chilling. Did I follow the same path as the first atomic bomb was transported? The Trinity test site is open to the public once (or twice?) a year, I think in the Fall. I’d like to visit it sometime … and if anyone has been there I’d appreciate hearing about it.
North of Beatty, Nevada, US95 disappears into the infinite distance. There is nothing but nothing and the tendency is for speed limits to be neither observed nor enforced. This is what the Long Distance Riders refer to as “whacking country”, where you can whack open the throttle and make great time to the next checkpoint. Tempted, I resisted for two reasons. First, I’m here to observe and whacking speed doesn’t let you distinguish between that massive crow inspecting road kill and a truck tire shred … they’re just both blurred black objects to avoid. Second, my calculation shows 212 miles between Beatty and Lee Vining and no towns with gas if I take the ‘side route’. The K75 is not set up for aux fuel, so: whack not, walk not.
This is only May, but the heat in the flat pan desert is already enough to cause mirages on the road. They appear at each slight rise ahead on a straightaway. I was mentally playing with each mirage, gauging the distance at which it would dissolve, when there appeared to be a sign sitting in the middle of a mirage. The sign said ‘massage’. A massage mirage? No, the ‘puddle’ evaporated, but the sign stayed. Ah, of course, this is Nevada. Welcome to Angel’s Ladies Brothel. Wondering (and again, not being a farm boy :), I stopped to ask questions. HEY! Remember what I said about an open mind! (Geez, the things I do for literary research.) Suffice it to say even a mirage is out of my price range, but the beauty of the desert flowers is certainly something to behold. And yes, they have a web site if ya just gotta know: http://www.angelsladiesbrothel.com
The touring brand disparity continues. In the deep desert, I saw 4 bikes, again all only BMWs. But on US395 near Bridgeport, there was a motorcycle multiplicity mirage, or so it seemed. I counted on the road 13 identically colored Honda ACEs. Either some local dealer is mighty persuasive on this model, or there was a Honda Happening Hereabouts.
I mentioned the 212 miles between gas … There has always been sparse coverage in the wide open west, heck 50 miles between *houses*, let alone towns, is not uncommon. But since the federal leaking-tank rules finally clamped shut last year, there are a lot of small towns that lost their one pump. Benton was my only hope had I not planned my gas flow. Benton was dry. In truth, gas availability is one of the reasons why smaller bikes and some brands never make it to the American outback. DON’T trust your AAA map, mapping software data, or GPS exit info. In fact, don’t even trust a local resident who says ‘sure, they got gas’ unless he or she can tell you what brand the station is. The N-DOT highway flag guy said he was sure they had some kinda gas at “Sopers” on US6. Maybe from the beans in the restaurant, but that’s all. Thank you again, FuelPlus. With it I knew exactly how long until I became buzzard bait. The reserve warning light clicked on 25 miles out of Lee Vining, with 49 miles remaining on the FuelPlus.
Some of us are weird about not strafing the same road twice (a phrase from Chuck Yeager). I hate to take the same road on a return trip … too many years of doing laps on running tracks, I guess. So for the climb across the Sierra this time I took Monitor Pass and CA4. The stretch of US395 between Bridgeport and Coleville dances with the Walker River and is a truly great ride. You can’t miss choosing any of the passes (although Tioga through Yosemite is still closed), but you shouldn’t miss this segment of US395 if you do any of them.
Do you remember when you were a kid how roads seemed to have “whoop de whoops” as they rose and dropped following the terrain contours? Your stomach would fall as you sailed over the short crest and dove into the dip. If you love that feeling, one more “don’t miss” road is CA120 east of US395. About 20 miles of serious whoops, and exquisite views of Mono Lake too.
Finally, drifting down toward the foothills and the valley, I cross again from winter to spring. On Ebbett’s Pass, like Sonora, the snow is still yards deep, the lakes still have a foot of ice so aqua in color it looks like there is a light inside. 40 degrees. Then alpine meadow. Then pine forest. Then leaf forest. Then the rolling flats of the central valley. I think: our little Kansas – already dry golden prairie grass waving in the sun. 89 degrees. The delta. The coastal range. The end of the continent. Home.
Where do we go next?
FuelPlus: 513 miles, 9:47 hrs engine, 53 mph average
GPS Trip total: 2,763 miles, 47:08 hrs travel, 58.6 mph average
Beatty US95 NV266/CA266 NV264 US6 CA120 US395 CA89 CA4 … local roads
Sam Lepore, San Francisco